June 19


This missionary monk was born about the year 974 of a noble Saxon family at Querfurt, and was baptized Bruno. He was educated in St Adalbert's city of Magdeburg, from whence he went to the court of Otto III, who regarded him with much confidence and affection and made him a court chaplain. When Otto went to Italy in 998, Bruno accompanied him and, like his master, came under the influence of St Romuald. With the memory of St Adalbert of Prague fresh in mind (who had been martyred the previous year) he received the monastic habit at the abbey of SS. Boniface and Alexis in Rome, and about 1000 he joined St Romuald. In the following year the emperor founded a monastery for them at Pereum, near Ravenna.

It was here that there came to Boniface (as he was now named) the call to carry the Christian message to the Veletians and Prussians and thus to continue the work of St Adalbert, whose life he had set himself to write. This scheme met with imperial approval, and two monks were sent in advance to Poland to learn Slavonic, while Boniface went to Rome for a papal commission; but these two, Benedict and John, with three others, were murdered by robbers on November 10, 1003, at Kazimierz, near Gniezno, before he could join them. These were the Five Martyred Brothers, whose biography Boniface subsequently wrote. With the authorization of Pope Silvester II duly granted, he set out for Germany in the depth of a winter so severe that his boots sometimes froze tight to the stirrups. After interviewing the new emperor, St Henry II, at Regensburg, he was consecrated a missionary bishop by the archbishop of Magdeburg at Merseburg -- perhaps "missionary archbishop" would be more accurate, for he had received a pallium from the pope, which has given rise to the suggestion that Boniface was in fact meant to be a metropolitan for eastern Poland. But owing to political difficulties he had to work for a time among the Magyars around the lower Danube; here he had no great success, and he went on to Kiev where, under the protection of St Vladimir, he preached Christ's gospel among the Pechenegs.

Eventually Boniface made another attempt to reach the Prussians from the Polish territories of Boleslaus the Brave, after writing an eloquent but fruitless letter to the Emperor St Henry, imploring him not to ally himself with the heathen against the Christian Boleslaus. While much is uncertain in his career we can accept without hesitation the statement made by the chronicler Thietmar, bishop of Merseburg, who was related to Boniface. He tells us that his kinsman encountered violent opposition in his efforts to evangelize the borderland people in eastern Masovia; and that when he persisted in disregarding their warnings he was cruelly slain with eighteen companions on March 14, 1009. The saint's body was purchased by Boleslaus, who removed it to Poland; and the Prussians afterwards honoured his memory by giving his name to the town of Braunsberg, on the reputed site of his martyrdom. St Boniface was a missionary of large ideas, including the evangelization of the Swedes, to whom he sent two of his helpers, perhaps from Kiev; but his achievements were, humanly speaking, disappointing.

Because he was sometimes called Bruno and sometimes Boniface, several later historians, including Cardinal Baronius in the Roman Martyrology (June 19 and October 15), have made the mistake of regarding Boniface and Bruno of Querfurt as different persons.

Sources for this life are not copious. There is a passage in the chronicle of Thietmar of Merseburg, another in St Peter Damian's Life of St Romuald, a short passio attributed to Wibert, who claimed to be a companion of the martyr, and a set of legendae in the Halberstadt Breviary. A rather tantalizing document has been published by H. G. Voigt, which, though preserved in a manuscript of very late date, has some pretensions to retain traces of a much older biography. It was first edited in the periodical Sachsen und Anhalt, vol. iii (1927), pp. 87-134; but it has since been included in Pertz, MGH., Scriptores, vol. xxx, part II. See also H. G. Voigt, Bruno von Querfurt... (1907) and Bruno als Missionar der Ostens (1909); the Historisches Jarbuch, vol. xiii (1892), 493-500; the Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, vol. liii (1897), pp. 266 seq.; F. Dvornik, The Making of Central and Eastern Europe (1949), pp. 196-204 and passim; and the Cambridge History of Poland, vol. i (1950), pp. 66-67.

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(Butler's Lives of the Saints, Christian Classics, 1995) wmaster@hcbc.hu